We’ve already talked about Super Cult Animation here at Colony Drop, so let’s talk about Actual Cult Animation. Paid for by the Happy Science religious organization and animated by Toei, The Laws of Eternity is raw propaganda– a recruitment film, really– and it’s not at all ashamed of that fact. This film is not here to entertain you: it is here to reveal a great truth. This truth, in my experience, was so powerful that I had to make a concerted effort to keep my eyes open in the face of its brilliant light.
This is an adaptation of Happy Science founder Ryuho Okawa’s book by the same name, with a thin narrative inserted that gets progressively more bizarre to match the original work’s ascent. When the ghost of Thomas Edison summons our teenaged, science-inclined heroes (the protagonists, Ryuta and Yoko, are transparent stand-ins for Ryuho and his wife Kyoko) to the spirit realm via prayer, the madness of Okawa’s vision of the cosmos has only begun.
Spirit guide God Eagle leads the kids through the various levels of heaven and hell that exist in Okawa’s universe, starting from the cosmic movie theater limbo in which the lives of the freshly dead are displayed onscreen and judged by their peers with little X’s, O’s or triangles floating up over their heads. Frankly, I’m surprised Japan hasn’t come up with one of these for the living already. It seems like their bag.
Now the heaven that regular people get into is different from the heaven that the truly exceptional get into: regular people just live comfortably in a nice town, say nothing but “thank you” to each other at all times, and have halos made out of joy. People who achieve great things, on the other hand– the guy who founded Toyota!– are actually angels, the lesser of whom have a level of Heaven where they hang out making devices like the “eliminate disease before it happens” machine and solving the energy problem with inexhaustible spirit juice.
And man, these angels are all totally famous. Edison (who was Gutenberg and Tsai Lun, the inventor of paper, in his past lives) is only one in a star-studded cast that includes Angel Hellen Keller, Angel Florence Nightingale, and the mysterious villains “Niches” and “Hisler", who push atheism and despair on the unsuspecting masses in the form of invisible spirit-slime. Also, they have a giant fire-breathing zombie elephant armadillo that must be defeated by an Ultraman-size angel in MD Geist armor, summoned by the protagonist. This is probably where the film peaks.
Once Hisler and Niches are defeated, the Ninth Dimension awaits. Nobody’s ever even been there before because the overpowering light of the place will destroy any ordinary soul. Of course, Ryuho Okawa and his wife are no ordinary souls. The brown guy and the American couldn’t even get past the Sixth Dimension! The real celebrity roll call waits at the top: Christ, Confucius, Moses, Newton (?!). But there’s one more entity who lives atop a pillar of light far above the rest: an entity who was Buddha, the Greek god Hermes (Happy Science made a movie about him too!), a couple of gods Okawa seems to have made up, the Egyptian god Thoth, and of course…. our protagonist. Ryuho Okawa has, after all, proclaimed that he is the incarnation of all these entities.
And then it’s over. Everybody goes back to earth and furthers humanity for the sake of Happy Science/Hermes/Ryuho Okawa/The Great Cosmic Truth El Cantare. The credits roll as a song plays– one of several– whose lyrics straightforwardly describe the tenets of the church and the cosmic-scale beauty of the Okawas’ love. Like the rest of the two-hour film, these songs feel as though they will never end. It’s truly impressive that a movie this crazy can manage to be as boring as it is: if a film ever called for a ten-minute Youtube highlight reel, this is it.
(Colony Drop LLC reserves the right to make a ten-minute Youtube highlight reel of The Laws of Eternity.)
Production values are characteristic of Toei in general: as cheap as possible for most of the running time, with abrupt shifts into theatrical-quality animation during the parts that I will assume were deemed most important by Ryuho Okawa. Fire-breathing elephant armadillo versus angel Ultraman is something to see in any format. Don’t expect consistent entertainment, keep your finger on the fast-forward button, and you should be just fine.
Here’s a fun fact: the director of this film’s most notable other work is the key animation for the opening of Cowboy Bebop, which in turn led to the church suckering some people in the States into a showing with Central Park Media-style “FROM THE DIRECTOR OF COWBOY BEBOP!” marketing. If you’re undecided about whether to suffer through this movie, I offer you the following advice:
“FROM THE DIRECTOR OF COWBOY BEBOP!”
Hey, I just realized how much this has in common with afterschool charisma kekekke.
Yeah, I wondered about this the entire movie and I’m sure most people who watch it do. On the one hand, it’s really workmanlike stuff, and on the other, the movie often does things that only someone really into the cult to begin with would think are a good idea. Five-minute hymns about the greatness of the Ninth Dimension as our stand-in heroes enter it fall under this category.
A similar folie de grandeur afflicted the marketing team who decided to trumpet Masamune Shirow’s association with Landlock. They probably thought they were divinely inspired too. Of course it’s better to let the consumer/critic say how divine a work is than to announce it in the ads, but the resulting rants of derision get some attention for it, whereas without those grandiose claims for critics to rise to, much trash would probably sink without trace. (I do sometimes worry whether any innocent neophytes have actually watched Mad Bull 34 or Balthus: Tia’s Radiance, just to see if they’re as bad as The Anime Encyclopedia claims.) And as an attention-getter for your weird sect, making a dull anime is less reprehensible than releasing gas in the subway.